Army Develops Pizza MREs with Three Year Shelf Life


By Debbie Gregory.

After working on it for the last five years, scientists have almost perfected a recipe for pizza that doesn’t require any refrigeration or freezing that will remain edible for years.

The biggest hurdle scientists had to overcome was the moisture in tomato sauce, cheese and toppings that migrated to the dough over time, resulting in soggy pizza Soggy pizza provided the perfect conditions for mold and disease-causing bacteria to grow. But through the use of “Hurdle Technology” which creates a kind of barrier that protects the pie from bacteria and mold, the lab was able to stop bacteria from forming. They also tweaked the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough to make it harder for oxygen and bacteria to thrive, and added iron fillings to the package to absorb any air remaining in the pouch.

In the not-to-distant future, U.S. soldiers will be able to open a meal pouch and pull out a ready-to-eat pizza. Food technologist Lauren Oleksyk, who works at the Army’s Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center, says that the meal is a fully-cooked piece of pizza that comes in a package. The lab specializes in creating meals-ready-to-eat for the military. Co-worker Michelle Richardson said, “You can basically take the pizza, leave it on the counter, packaged, for three years and it’d still be edible.”

Soldiers have been asking for pizza since lightweight individual field rations — known as meals ready to eat (MREs) replaced canned food in 1981 for soldiers in combat zones or areas where field kitchens cannot be set up.

While the pizza unsurprisingly won’t be the same as a fresh slice, it’ll taste more like the ones served during lunch time in a school cafeteria. That doesn’t sound bad at all. The pizza has so far been well-received.

According to Jill Bates, who runs the lab, “It pretty much tastes just like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home and take out of the oven or the toaster oven.”

In addition to creating the ready to eat meals, scientists at the Natick labs are also responsible for developing equipment and clothing that improves soldiers’ combat effectiveness and their survival.

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Do Virtual Reality Benefits Carry Any Risks?


By Debbie Gregory.

Researchers are exploring how Virtual Reality (VR) can help with everything from treating PTSD to overcoming addiction.

VR replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing interaction in that world. Virtual realities also artificially create sensory experiences including sight, touch, hearing, and smell.

There is, however, much that we don’t know about how the brain reacts to prolonged exposure to the new medium.

While the virtual world can help veterans overcome post-traumatic stress syndrome, there is the risk that overexposure to VR may generate its own trauma.

At the University of Southern California, pioneering VR researcher Albert “Skip” Rizzo has developed Virtual Iraq and Virtual Afghanistan VR software that is being used at dozens of VA facilities to help veterans plagued by PTSD.

In 2003, he says, he ran across a battle simulation game that the Army had helped

develop. He knew that exposure therapies had been shown to work for trauma cases.

“I said why not take this and modify this and use it as a virtual Iraq for people that come

back from the war with PTSD?” Rizzo said.

The idea is to allow patients to gradually confront their trauma through a series of

increasingly intense scenarios in the safety of a clinical setting, so that they can “unlearn the association between the stimuli and its consequences,” says Rizzo. He developed three scenarios, a sniper situation, a market place and the convoy on the highway.

“We try to address the trauma and activate a memory, and it’s hard medicine for a hard problem,” says Rizzo, the director of medical virtual reality at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies. “But the point is to learn that the present can’t hurt you. For anyone saying that we’re re-traumatizing people, we say this is better than having them see Middle Eastern garb at a Walmart and freaking out.”

VR technology is still in its early days, and therefore so too is any research into what, if any negative affect it will have on the brain.

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Should Green Beret Who Protected Afghan Boy From Molestation Be Discharged?


Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland’s Army career changed course during his second deployment to Afghanistan in 2011. The decorated Army sergeant who protected an Afghan boy from a child molester will find out any day whether his actions will end his career in the military.

Army Secretary John McHugh “agreed to postpone Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland’s discharge from the Army” to allow him to file an appeal with the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records. But that postponement is up.

The Green Beret admitted that he lost his cool and struck an Afghan police commander who had allegedly confessed to raping a boy and then beating the child’s mother for telling authorities. Martland served in the Special Forces for 11 years, and many of his teammates say that he is the finest soldier they have ever served alongside.

Martland had said that he had encountered corrupt police officials who were conducting beatings, honor killings and rapes that went unpunished. When he became aware of the atrocity that had befallen this child and his mother, Martland said it was too much.

In a memo to the Army Enlisted Records and Evaluation Center, Martland admitted to striking the Afghan.

Last year, amid military cuts, the Army Human Resources Command recommended Martland be discharged in part based on his disciplinary record, but an official decision by U.S. Army brass is expected by March 1.

“After acting to protect a child from sexual assault from an Afghan commander, SFC Martland was punished and could be kicked out of the military at any time,” said Jay Sekulow, of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). “What’s equally disturbing are reports that the military has allowed Afghanistan forces to sexually abuse young children on U.S. bases.”

On the ACLJ website, Sekulow wrote: “Here’s the bottom line: SFC Martland acted in compliance with U.S. and international law and should not face punishment – and ultimately expulsion – from the military. He should be commended – not castigated – for his brave actions. The fate of a U.S. war hero is at stake.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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Former Elected Official Resigns Over Exaggerated Military Service


By Debbie Gregory.

Washington State Rep. Graham Hunt has resigned over accusations that he exaggerated his military record. He has also resigned as Washington state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.

Hunt met with Republican leaders as a series of accusations against him began to circulate. He was told he either needed to clear up his record or resign.

On February 2, 2016,  Hunt posted on his website: “It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that I hereby resign from my position as Representative for the Second District, effective today. Over the past week, substantial media attention has been devoted to inconsistencies in the records of my military service. In response to these questions, I have exerted my best effort in trying to compile a complete set of my military personnel files, which memorializes my service history. I have worked to identify and explain any remaining confusion to the best of my ability.”

Hunt claimed that he was a combat veteran in Iraq and Afghanistan, receiving three medals, although the Air Reserve Personnel Center had no record of him receiving any medals.

The military has confirmed Hunt’s service in the Arizona Air National Guard from 1998 to 2005, and he did deploy to Saudi Arabia for part of that time. But Hunt has been unable to produce record substantiating his claims of being in combat or deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.

In a statement, Hunt apologized to “all those who have been affected by this situation.”

He also said, “None of us are without flaws, shortcomings, or mistakes. I take full responsibility for any errors I have made, and I fully accept the obligation to address them responsibly… I deeply appreciate those who have supported my family and me through these difficult times, and hope that they extend the same level of dedicated support to my successor. I look forward to working with my successor in his or her transition into office…”

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Yazidi Women Who Escaped ISIS Ready to Fight

sun ladies

By Debbie Gregory.

They are the survivors, these young women. Most of them were taken from in and around the town of Sinjar, Iraq, which fell to ISIS in August, 2014. They witnessed the slaughter of their families on Mount Sinjar, and then were forced by ISIS into sexual slavery. Now the “Sun Ladies,” Yazidi women who have signed up to fight ISIS, are ready to take up arms against their former capturers.

Calling themselves “Force of the Sun Ladies” and driven by a collective desire for vengeance, the battalion is preparing for an offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, where many were exchanged by militants to serve as their sex slaves.

Some 123 Sun Ladies, ranging in age from 17 to 37, have undergone training and have taken their place alongside the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. There are another 500 who are awaiting training.

The “lucky” ones managed to escape after being sold off to low-level fighters, while others were ransomed back to their families. The Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights runs a small clinic in the Kurdish city of Duhok where Yazidi women can receive medical care and psychological treatment.

Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a 21 year old Yazidi survivor, has addressed British Parliament and the U.N. Security Council, asking for help in freeing the thousands of women and girls who remain captive. She has travelled to Egypt, Greece, Kuwait, Norway, the United States, appealing for aid for displaced Yazidis living in refugee camps. She has also asked for an investigation as to whether ISIS has committed genocide against the Yazidi people.

The Sun Ladies may come up against Yazidi boys who were kidnapped and brainwashed, and could now be fighting their mothers and sisters under the black flag of ISIS.

Capt Khatoon Khider, a member of the Sun Ladies, said, “… we are defending ourselves from the evil. We are defending all the minorities in the region. We will do whatever is asked of us.”

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Attack in US by Islamic State Likely in 2016, Experts Say


By Debbie Gregory.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified in a rare public hearing on Capitol Hill about intelligence threats facing the nation.

Clapper is almost certain that the Islamic State (ISIS) will continue to launch or inspire attacks on American soil in 2016.

Attacks in the U.S. have included  the May attack on the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas, the July attack on the Navy and Marine reserve center in Chattanooga, TN, and the San Bernardino, CA terror attack in December.

Clapper said that ISIS can “direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world” and that the terrorist group has demonstrated ” the threat that homegrown violent extremists also pose to the homeland.”

The horrifying success of unprecedented terrorist attacks in the United States on 9/11 demonstrated that the U.S. government’s threat assessment was wrong. So much of the effort of how to deal with enemies was geared to overseas threats that the Pentagon turned out to be totally unprepared to defend its own headquarters.

Over time, if not significantly degraded, the ISIS threat to the U.S. will become a direct one; that is, an ISIS ability to plan and direct attacks on U.S. soil from the group’s safe haven in Iraq and Syria, just like the group did in Paris

As well as the threat from ISIS and homegrown terrorists, Al-Qaeda, which spawned the Islamic State, remains a danger. Additionally, we need to keep ever vigilant regarding Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

Clapper explained that North Korea has expanded a uranium enrichment facility and restarted a plutonium reactor that could begin recovering material for nuclear weapons in weeks or months.

He also said that Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile capable of posing a direct threat to the United States, “although the system has not been flight-tested.”

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The Power of a Mantra-“Keep Breathing”


By Debbie Gregory.

An Army Ranger from Joint Base Lewis-McChord is recovering at Walter Reed Military Medical Center after being shot four times during a firefight in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Oliver Campbell had three bullets go through and through, but one bullet lodged close to his heart after the attack. While he awaited a medical evacuation after the attack, Campbell repeated to himself a phrase he’d just heard watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s new survivalist flick: “keep breathing.”

The recurring line from DiCaprio’s The Revenant kept Campbell calm until he lost consciousness.

His lung nearly collapsed and his heart stopped on one of his medical flights. He also suffered shrapnel injuries near his eyes.

Campbell and his Ranger team were attacked with small arms and sort of explosive exploded, causing shrapnel to splinter in a compound they visited.

Campbell joined the Army immediately after graduating from high school in Southern California.

The 22 year old plotted a course that would make him an Army Airborne Ranger. He joined his battalion a little more than two years ago, and has deployed to Afghanistan several times.

In a letter to friends and family, Campbell thanked his teammates for keeping him alive after the attack and the flight surgeons and nurses who tended to him.

He also thanked actor Leonardo DiCaprio, whose performance in the survivalist movie “The Revenant” helped motivate him.

“Believe it or not, when I was laying there all jacked up, the movie ‘The Revenant’ came to mind,” he wrote. “All I could think of was that line, ‘Keep breathing.’ ”

The Revenant is inspired by the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass in Montana and South Dakota. While exploring the uncharted wilderness in 1823, Glass sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home to his beloved family.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Purple Heart Recipient Needs Further Proof of Service


By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has denied benefits to a World War II veteran in his 90s who was wounded in combat and earned a Purple Heart, saying it does not have enough proof that he served in the military.

Emil Limpert submitted an application for benefits to the VA, and was told he needed to provide more proof that he was in the military.

“I get this letter that says we can’t accept it because we’ve got no record of you being in the service,” he told the station. “I guess I’m the unknown soldier.”

He says he was wounded in a foxhole in the Philippines in 1944.

Limpert, who had shrapnel removed at his own expense, said he waited until now to apply for benefits because he is down to nothing.

“We got rid of our car, we got rid of our house,” he said. “I got rid of money I had in bonds and stocks and now I need help.”

With the help of AMVETS, Limpert was able to provide plenty of documentation to support his claim to veteran status. He had his military discharge papers, a roster of those injured in the 1944 attack, and the X-ray of his leg after he returned home. He also has two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart he earned in combat.

The VA sent Limpert a letter asking him to submit affidavits from fellow service members, most of whom are dead, or the location of the hospital where he was originally treated.

“There ain’t no hospital,” he told the station. “We were in the jungles.”

Limpert’s military records were apparently among the 15 million records destroyed in a massive 1973 fire in Overland, Missouri, a time when all records were only on paper.

Limpert and his wife, married for 70 years, live in an assisted-living facility outside St. Louis. He has now turned to his local senator for help in the matter.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Limperts.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

US Intelligence Heads Weigh In on World Issues


By Debbie Gregory.

Summarizing his annual assessment of the world issues facing the United States, National Intelligence Director James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee that worldwide threats constitute a “litany of doom.”

Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, NSA director Admiral Michael Rogers, and Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart had very little positive news to offer.

Drug Trafficking- Heroin seizures at the Southern U.S. border have doubled in the last six years, and cocaine production has increased significantly. Tens of thousands of people have died from drug overdoses.

Iran- The U.S. intelligence community is in a “distrust and verify mode” to ensure that Iran complies with the nuclear deal.

North Korea- Test-firing missiles and carrying out nuclear tests to firm up domestic support and intimidate his rivals, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is also advertising what is available to buyers with the ability to meet his asking price.

Space-Both Clapper and Stewart described increasing competition in space, especially from Russia and China. Clapper’s report states that the more aggressive push from Russia and China may threaten U.S. use of military, civil, and commercial space systems.

Terrorism- Outside of Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS) is making gains in Libya. Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, Clapper said conditions in Libya in some ways resemble Iraq and Syria before the Islamic State’s takeover there. The country has become a hotbed of warring militias with clashing ideologies. Brennan warned the Islamic State is well-positioned to make further gains in the country.

Technology- Comey said an unspecified encryption system has so far prevented his agents from getting access to what he implied was a key piece of evidence in their investigation of the attack in San Bernardino, California. Widespread availability of encryption tools has blocked access to suspects’ communications.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

House Vote Reduces GI Bill Housing Stipend for Military Children

bah cut

By Debbie Gregory.

The House of Representatives approved a bill that would cut, by half, the housing stipend for children of service members going to school with transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it would need to pass and then be signed by the president to become law.

The language, part of the Veterans Employment, Education and Healthcare Act, cuts the payment for children of service members using the transferred funding. It would not apply to benefits already transferred or transferred within 180 days of the bill becoming law.

The housing stipend, often one of the most valuable parts of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is typically calculated based on the Basic Allowance for Housing that active-duty service members would receive if stationed where the school is located. The housing stipend may be worth as much as the tuition and fees the benefit covers, sometimes more.

A spokesman for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the cuts were necessary to offset, or pay for, other aspects of the bill. He also noted that the cuts were less drastic than those recommended from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, said that while the bill has “absolutely wonderful programs,” paying for those by reducing a benefit that service members have been promised “is an egregious breach of trust.”

“Why come to the soldiers first? There’s no other place in the federal government we can find this [funding]?” Walz asked.

Veteran and military groups seem to be split on whether or not this is a good move.

Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans both wrote letters favoring the overall bill.

The Association of the United States Navy and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are against the cuts.

The measure would not affect the stipends of veterans using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits they earned themselves.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.